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March 2016

For Immediate Release
March 31, 2016
CONTACT: Karin Romans, Pro Bono Net
212-760-2554 x496 | kromans@probono.net

National Legal Help Website Features Self-help Resources, Information, Referrals

New York – March 31, 2016– While our nation’s economy continues to improve, the enduring effects of the economic crisis continue to impact the lives of millions of Americans. LawHelp.org offers critical help obtaining and learning about much-needed tax credits.

LawHelp.org is the gateway to a national network of nonprofit statewide legal information portals dedicated to providing free online legal resources to individuals with limited means.  LawHelp.org helps low-income people find local nonprofit legal aid programs in all 50 states, answers to questions about legal rights, court information, self-help tools, links to social service agencies and more.

The LawHelp.org network offers a variety of free tools and information for those grappling with tax preparation including fact sheets for those facing a variety of special circumstances; information about rebates and tax credits, including the earned income tax credit; links to sites offering free tax filing; referrals to organizations that offer free or low-cost help; information on avoiding tax scams; and more.

“LawHelp makes it easier for struggling families to obtain important benefits as well as find needed information, by providing a gateway to tax resources, referrals and tools on one user-friendly site,” said Liz Keith, Program Director at Pro Bono Net.

LawHelp.org is operated by Pro Bono Net, the nonprofit leader in technology solutions to expand access to justice for those in need. LawHelp.org is available in English and Spanish and was developed with support from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grant program.

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About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged.  Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved.  Our comprehensive programs, including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org andwww.lawhelpinteractive.org, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.  For more information, please visit www.probono.net.


Read More Press Releases HERE

 

 

MirendaIt’s hard to believe time has gone by so quickly, but earlier this month I attended my fourth LawHelp Interactive (LHI) annual technical summit. This 2-day summit has served as a time to meet in-person with the full LHI team which spans from Coast to Coast, as well as with various LHI field partners, funders, technology partners and stakeholders. We spent much of the 2016 technical summit going over LHI priorities for the year and engaging in discussion around strategies on promoting and preserving LHI’s important and evolving role helping legal aid organizations and court to provide free forms online.

Over the past two years, with funding through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Technology Initiative Grant program and support from Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) and Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA), LHI has undergone a rebuild process to modernize and upgrade the capacity of LHI to support service delivery innovation by legal aid programs, courts and other justice community stakeholders (see this blog post on the rebuild).  This technology strategy has been validated by an independent third party assessment and work is currently underway to implement recommendations to further improve the system. With this new, stable environment completed, focus on LHI has shifted to a number of areas outside of ensuring that the system works well for a growing and diversifying user community. Here are a few highlights from my perspective:

Data: Through an LSC-funded project with Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support, LHI now has the capacity to better understand how users are utilizing the system. Better data allows the Minnesota team to make more informed decisions about what’s working and where improvements are most appropriate for the users of its interviews. We’re all working to expand our internal capacity to leverage Google Analytics in more powerful ways to understand the end-to-end experience of LHI users.

Usability, and End User-centric design: The rebuild was focused on back end changes by design. Now that the more robust LHI infrastructure is operational and working well, we’ve identified a follow up priority of modernizing the look and feel of the LHI experience, and exploring opportunities to improve the user experience for specific audiences such as self-helpers, advocate users, and template developers.

Programmatic and strategic partners: A very important part of the summit was being able to hear from partners and funders including LSC, OSLSA, Capstone, and Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). We also heard from court customers that rely on LHI every day to e-file and provide services in self-help centers (New York, California and Hennepin County Minnesota), as well as received input from high volume users from states including Michigan and Illinois and Washington. We were able to hear from partners in other states and programs that are planning to leverage interactive forms in remote services, online triage and new self-help initiatives. Their input and perspective are critical in the development of a long-term vision for LHI.

 

* Special thanks to my son for accompanying me to New York during the summit and helping with edits to this post.*

 


Mirenda Meghelli is the LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net, where she works as part of a team to support and grow initiatives using LawHelp Interactive, an award-winning national online document assembly platform operated by Pro Bono Net in partnership with legal aid, pro bono and court access to justice programs across the country. 

For Immediate Release
March 23, 2016
CONTACT:
mediarelations@law.georgetown.edu
or Karin Romans, Pro Bono Net
212-760-2554 x496 | kromans@probono.net

Today, the MacArthur Foundation demonstrated its commitment to protecting voting rights by awarding a $1 million grant to the Voting Rights Institute.

Launched in October 2015, the Voting Rights Institute is a joint project of Georgetown University Law Center, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and the Campaign Legal Center. Established in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which nullified a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Institute offers opportunities for students, recent graduates and fellows to engage in litigation and policy work in the field of voting rights and to educate attorneys about the skills and best practices of voting rights advocates.

The initial phase of the Voting Rights Institute began in 2014 with a series of training sessions in New York, Columbus, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Miami. In 2015, a training session was held in Chicago. To date, more than 400 attendees representing a diverse group of attorneys, law students and voting rights advocates have taken part in these activities. Georgetown Law has also provided a venue for training institutes.

As part of this effort, the Voting Rights Institute is also launching a new website, www.votingrightsinstitute.org, which provides voting rights information to the public, resources for attorneys working on voting rights litigation (including expert witness documents and sample legal documents), and a tool for the public to report voting rights violations. It also provides updates on events, publications and other resources to elevate public awareness of voter identification laws and voter registration restrictions. The site leverages a technology platform developed by Pro Bono Net, which is used to support broad-based networks of legal aid, civil rights and pro bono lawyers.

Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor said, “I could not be more pleased and proud that the MacArthur Foundation has chosen to honor the Voting Rights Institute and its crucial mission with this generous grant. The motto at Georgetown Law is, ‘Law is but the means, justice is the end.’ And nowhere is the need for justice greater than when it comes to protecting and preserving the right to vote.”

ACS President Caroline Fredrickson said, “This grant represents the tireless commitment of countless individuals to the idea that every American should have a voice in our political system. The Voting Rights Act – one of the most effective pieces of legislation ever passed – may be hobbled, but our dedication to the underlying democratic principles will endure.”

Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center said, “We are incredibly grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for investing in this important work. The Voting Rights Institute is preparing the next generation of attorneys, experts and activists to preserve our democracy and protect the ability of all Americans to vote. By providing resources, litigating, educating, training and conducting new and original research, the VRI is growing the pool of voting rights attorneys and experts at this crucial time when they are needed the most.”


About VRIVoting Rights Institute2

The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated the coverage formula of the 1965 Voting Rights Act—the most effective civil rights law ever enacted—and has led to an assault on voting rights across the country. To respond to this crisis, the American Constitution Society, the Campaign Legal Center, and Georgetown University Law Center have launched the Voting Rights Institute to help attorneys, expert witnesses, law students, and the public combat discriminatory voting practices across the country.

 

Read More Press Releases HERE

Next Steps in Social Media for Nonprofits and Public Interest Organizations: Deepening Your Online Outreach and Engagement Strategies Webcast Available

Join Pro Bono Net’s Program Manager, Liz Keith for The Practising Law Institutes newest free seminar for nonprofits! On March 30th, 2016, PLI is hosting a seminar/webinar to discuss the use of social media by legal organizations and nonprofits, as well as tools and tips on how to effectively integrate social media with your overall communications and digital strategy. Sign up for the seminar, or corresponding webcast HERE.

Date: March 30th, 2016 Time: 9:00 am Pacific (12pm EST) Location: 685 Market Street, Suite 100 San Francisco, CA 94105-4202

Why You Should Attend

With the focus of social media in the legal profession, smart non-profits and public interest organizations are cultivating a robust social media presence. Learn what uses of social media are gaining traction, tools and tips that nonprofits are embracing, and how to effectively integrate social media with your overall communications and digital strategy. We’ll discuss how to deepen your understanding of what’s working to grow your network, engage your supporters and build on success.

What You Will Learn

Drawing on the latest research and trends and case studies of non-profits in the legal sector, we’ll explore how social media and networking tools can be used to grow your organization’s online presence, and in turn, attract more supporters and volunteers and reach more beneficiaries.  By the end of this seminar attendees will be familiar with:

  • Practical tips for getting the most out of social media tools
  • How to identify and define achievable social media goals
  • How to develop an effective and sustainable content strategy
  • How to build a culture of social media within your organization
  • How to create a “listening” dashboard to provide insight into how others view your organization and issues you care about
  • How to engage with and respond to diverse constituencies online
  • How to monitor and measure your social media impact

Who Should Attend

The session is appropriate for executive directors, program administrators, pro bono managers, and communications and fundraising staff at non-profit and legal services organizations.  We will draw on research and real-life examples from the public interest legal community as well as the non-profit sector at large.

This program is a companion to the introductory Social Media for Non-Profit and Public Interest Organizations 2015 program available as an On-Demand webcast.

Faculty and Speakers

Chairperson(s)
Speaker(s)
  • Sayre Happich ~ Assistant Director of Communications & Public Relations, The Bar Association of San Francisco
  • Regina Walton ~ Co-Organizer, @SFTech4Good and Marketing Director, Pole to Win International
Program Attorney(s)

 

Practising Law InstituteAt the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visitwww.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.

 

 

Sam HalpertSam Halpert is Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Program Coordinator. He came to Pro Bono Net in September 2015 from the National Association for Law Placement, where he developed and maintained PSJD.org. He received his JD cum laude from Georgetown Law and his BA cum laude in History & Literature from Harvard University. He is currently based in Pro Bono Net’s San Francisco office.

Since I began working with Pro Bono Net in September, I’ve spent a lot of time in conference calls. My job places me at the hub of an amazing network of dedicated legal aid professionals across the United States, which I love. But working with this sprawling network has also meant that a lot of my most important relationships have been with voices on the phone and streams of emails. It can make relationships challenging. Back in October, I tried to mitigate this problem by tracking down the LinkedIn profile pictures for all of my various contacts and adding images to my virtual rolodex.

The Technology Innovation Grant (TIG) Conference was better. The first night, I felt as though I was crashing someone else’s high school reunion—it’s a tight-knit group. But as the conference got into full swing, I found plenty of people to talk with, and we had plenty to talk about. (It certainly helped that Pro Bono Net was willing to let me speak on a few panels.) Being able to put faces with voices was invaluable. More than anything else, I appreciated the chance to get to know the partners I coordinate with on a regular basis in person. My ongoing correspondence with the folks I met at TIG has deepened as a result, and both of the upcoming TIG proposals with which I’ve been involved have turned on relationships that grew over conversations at the conference.

I was also engrossed by the substance TIG covered this year. The sessions covered a broad array of topics, but for me two major themes emerged:

  •  Analytics & Benchmark Reporting. I’d already been spending a substantial amount of time on analytics before TIG, but the sessions and my conversations in the hallway gave me a chance to hear from both LawHelp partners and managers of other statewide websites about the kind of metrics they’d like to begin tracking as a community. As a result, I’ve been able to return to my tinkering with renewed focus and ask more probing questions in subsequent conversations I’ve had with state partners about their reporting needs. My work in this area is still experimental, so I won’t get into too much detail here.
  • User-Driven Design. The speakers at TIG introduced me to a lot of new concepts, exercises, and techniques I’ve begun applying in my work at every available opportunity. For example, I’m working on an A/B test for Legal Aid OK’s home page, I’ve been discussing card sorting & tree sorting with LawHelp New York as they develop a new content structure, and I’m working with Alaska LawHelp on a strategy for engaging users as we design a new online classroom module for LawHelp (funded by a TIG grant).

In short, TIG has already had a tremendous impact on my work. It has improved my working relationships with distant partners and informed my approach to substantive areas to which I devote much of my time. I can’t wait for next year, when I hope to return and share the ways I will have put this year’s lessons to work with all my new colleagues.


LSC logoLegal Services Corporation (LSC) Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) seek to improve legal services delivery to the low-income population and to increase access by low-income persons to high quality legal services, to the judicial system, and to legal information. Over the past 16 years LSC has awarded $53.2 million in grants for more than 640 projects that leverage technology to help meet the civil legal needs of low-income people.

There are approximately 5.2 million undocumented women living in and contributing to the United States, many of whom may qualify for immigration relief now or in the near future. The Migration Policy Institute predicts that women may be more likely to be eligible for DAPA, and many women who are crime victims or survivors of abuse and gender-based violence may already qualify for immigration benefits. However, many immigrant women continue to face significant barriers to accessing vital information and legal services related their immigration options.

Step ForwardToday, We Belong Together and the Immigration Advocates
Network (IAN), in partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Pro Bono Net, and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, will launch Step Forward (www.womenstepforward.org), a new mobile accessible website for immigrant women and their families that provides tools, trusted resources, and the latest information needed to understand their immigration options and rights.

The story of Adriana Cazorla, a domestic worker living in Washington state, is a powerful example of
how access to legal status can make all the difference in helping immigrant women escape constant fear and control at the hands of their abusers:

“Before, I didn’t think that I had any rights because I was undocumented. For twelve years my ex-
husband abused me. He told me that if I called the police for help he would report me to immigration. Every day that I left to go to work I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to come home to my children. I didn’t know there were programs that could help women like me until I finally met a social worker who told me about VAWA. My children and I are safe now, but we will always be scarred by those twelve years of abuse and fear of deportation.”

Adriana CazorlaAt a time of increased vitriol against immigrants and confusion about the status of new immigration programs like DAPA, it’s vital that immigrant communities have ready access to plain language legal information and referrals to quality legal assistance. Step Forward‘s unique approach to both legal empowerment and mobilizing immigrant women represents a critical step in the fight against abuse, fraud and misinformation.

Step Forward allows immigrant women to take the first step towards understanding their immigration options and rights, including:

  • An online self-screening tool to help undocumented women assess whether they might qualify for various forms of immigration relief;
  • Trusted referrals to nonprofit legal service providers so individuals can access help and avoid fraud or misinformation;
  • Latest news and updates on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA);
  • Information on what to do in case of immigration raids or other encounters with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE);
  • Know your rights information for immigrant workers; and
  • Resources for crime victims and survivors of abuse.

Please take a moment today to amplify this work, and the voices of immigrant women, by sharing this resource widely.


Immigration Advocates NetworkMatthew Burnett is director of the Immigration Advocates Network, a collaborative effort of leading immigrants’ rights organizations and Pro Bono Net, designed to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants and strengthen the capacity of organizations serving them.